Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Making' Yogurt

On Sunday afternoons at the Old Halton Homestead, Mama Halton would pull two large yogurt containers from the fridge and, under intense scrutiny from her six kids, would serve up 8 equal portions. Legend says, each child would grab their share and move off greedily to their separate corners. Some would eat the coveted treat quickly (you never know who’ll jump you). Others would go slow and as the ‘Inhalers’ finished the ‘Savorers’ exaggeratingly licked the yogurt from their spoons. The taunting usually meant someone got hurt.
Yogurt was a big deal for a large family living with one income. It doesn’t come cheap. So when I read that it’s possible to make yogurt at home with milk, milk powder and a tiny amount of yogurt with active bacteria, I was pretty stoked to try it.
There are at least a half dozen ways to make my husband’s family’s most beloved treat . You can make yogurt by putting your milk out in the sun. You can make it by putting milk over your wood burner. You can make it in the oven and in the crock-pot and in a thermos. It all sounds cheap and easy.
Turns out its not as easy as I thought. Tonight I’m on my third attempt. On my first try I managed to burn the ‘yogurt’. The second try ended with a gelatinous, sour mixture that was okay with curry but not passable on its own (the texture was a little like phlegm, so it didn’t go down real easy).
This will be my final attempt. A failure tonight means that the Legend of the Halton Yogurt Sundays will soon become our reality… with a growing family I can’t afford yogurt as an everyday thing.
To keep the tension high for you, I’m going to check on my batches (one is in the crock-pot and another in a thermos) after I run through the details. This basic recipe can be found in multiple sources, however I’m working from the books: The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan and Country Wisdom and Know how by Editors of Storey Books.
Prep: Make sure all utensils are sterilized in the dishwasher or by boiling for 1 minute. Yogurt may come from the interaction of bacteria, heat and milk, but it’s only a certain kind of bacteria you want to grow!
1. Heat/Scald 4 cups of milk – whatever milk fat you choose- to 180 F over medium/high heat.
2. Remove from heat and add 1/3 skim milk powder (If you want to sweeten yogurt, also now add about 1/3 C of sweetener like honey, maple syrup, sugar or artificial sweetener).
3. Let mixture cool to 90 F- 120 F (this step can be speeded up by putting mixture in a chilled bowl in the fridge).
4. Whisk in 1 Rounded Tablespoon of Plain Yogurt with Active Bacteria (I picked up single serving containers at the grocery store)
A. FOR CROCK-POT- HEAT CROCK-POT ON LOW UNTIL HOT TO TOUCH. Place mixture in containers that have tight closing lids (glass jars used for canning work great) and place these in crock-pot. Cover and turn off heat. Over the next three hours, turn on heat to ‘low’ every hour for 10 minute stints. Place containers in the fridge to further thicken.
B. FOR THERMOS- Pour mixture into pre-heated (I boiled it) thermos then do not agitate! Wait 3 hours to check for firmness. When thick, place in fridge to further thicken.
Yogurt can be flavoured with fresh or canned fruit after yogurt is made, or you may add 1 Tablespoon of jam or syrup to bottom of containers before adding the milk mixture.
This is the routine I followed three hours ago and now it is time to check on my yogurt’s status. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll be a minute…
It is a sad day at the Halton Homestead. Seems I may be forever doomed to supermarket yogurt treats. All I’ve got in my containers is flavoured warm milk. However, since I am an optimist and one of the books does say to leave overnight, I’m going to sleep on it and check it in the morning. Stay tuned.
(8 hours later)
As I opened my yogurt jars this morning, I was treated to the smell of sweet… jam and sour milk. . I’ve been skunked again
My sources give a number of reasons for milk not thickening:
- Too little ‘starter’ yogurt
- ‘Starter’ bacteria was inactive
- Incubation temperature was too hot or cold
- Milk was too hot or cold when ‘starter’ yogurt was added
- Utensils were not sterilized
Frankly that’s a lot of possibilities and, at least for this year, I’m going to accept failure. But perhaps you will have more luck.
And after reflection through the night, there is an option besides supermarket brands. I think I’ll buy a yogurt maker appliance; limited storage be damned.


Lynn said...

I tried making yoghurt years ago and came upon the same problem. But I was recently thinking to give it another try after re-reading my dog-eared copy of the Tightwad Gazette, Vol III. Amy Dacynzyn does a pretty serious scientific investigation into home yoghurt making and after several trials, says that during incubation, a constant source of heat is key. She found that Thermos methods don't seem to work. And that crockpot method seems like the heat would fluctuate a lot. The method Dacynzyn said led to consistent thick results was to place the jars of milk that had cooled to 115 degrees on a heating pad set to low, cover with a towel, and invert a large soup pot over top...

Evelyn in Canada said...

I know I'm late to the discussion, but I've been making yoghurt for a while now. It doesn't always work (probably because of all the variables you mention), but here's the method I use and it usually works great. I love that it used powdered milk. It's not necessarily much cheaper, but I have it on hand whereas I'm forever running out of milk. http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2009/10/homemade-yoghurt.html

When it doesn't set, I use the milk for my baking that week.